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FORGED STEEL, PRECISE MACHINING, SLICK FUNCTIONING

Target • 11th Sep, 16 • 0 Comments

 

The heading might be used to describe Winchester pump-action rifles of the 1950s and earlier, as well as the semi-auto Model 63. These were wonderful rifles that retain significant value some half a dozen decades later. Those in near-new condition are just plain expensive today, and the new-in box are off the charts. As good as they are, there's a better .22 rifle available to everyone today, at what I consider to be a bargain price.

The Browning Semi-Auto 22 (SA-22) is almost too good to be true. Balance of the five-pound, four-ounce firearm is so good that it can be shot one handed, in pistol fashion. There is no clip to lose or under-barrel magazine to dent, since it is loaded (11 long rifle cartridges) through the stock. Browning came out with the original version of the rifle in 1914, and it is said today that the inventor was as proud of it as anything he ever did. Simplicity of design is remarkable.

The action is a compact piece of forged steel, machined to incredible tolerances. In fact, recent-year production quality and metallurgy is better than anything from the sweet zone of the 1930s through early 1960s. To keep the price reasonable, Japan essentially duplicates the previous Belgium engraving on the receiver without having a row of expensive craftsmen chasing through the steel one hammer tap at a time. Technology can be a very good thing, as long as the basic rifle is still there; better and better, decade after decade.

Some will argue with my opinion. There are those stuck on collector value alone. But I'm a shooter, and the current Browning SA-22s shoot better than those of even a few decades ago. It's all in the refined and accurately held tolerances, including the absolutely gorgeous barrel. With reasonable care and better-grade ammunition, the SA-22 will empty its entire magazine into about an inch at 50 yards. Premium ammunition, selected for compatibility with a specific rifle, will do about three quarters of an inch. The Winchester 62s and 61s, and especially the 63s, never came close to that.

The SA-22 is an eye-catching beauty. Browning knows how to make a pretty firearm, and this is a shining example of that skill. Some folks don't like the idea that they're built in Japan now, but I've gotten past that point. There's no denying that Lexus, for example, is a superior automobile. Most every magazine that tests cars gives them that nod. I used to have a number of early Winchester lever actions (now sold), and have since acquired some of the Japanese-made versions of the Models 73, 92, 94, 1886, and 1895. These are vastly superior rifles when compared to the originals, if fit, finish, function, durability, and accuracy are important to you. They are to me.

If you long for the slick, well-oiled feel of the old Winchester 22s, at least go to a local shop and give the Browning SA-22 a look. Have the sales rep show you the simple, interrupted-thread take-down feature that puts the rifle at less than 20 inches. Remember to pull back on the bolt about half an inch during take-down and assembly, and grip the receiver (with your ring off) rather than the stock near the pistol grip. Try to talk him down to something in the $600 range (MSRP is $699.99). If you come close, give him the money and take it home. You can thank me when we meet somewhere down the road.

JDC

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